Wednesday, February 27, 2008



I tasted something green today. It was a green, Jelly Belly brand gummy bear. It tasted like "green", pure and simple. Nothing in the world tastes like it. If you have ever sucked on a GREEN sucker, then you know that taste. It tastes green.

But before I tasted it, I smelled it. Green. That's what it smelled like too.

They say that the sense of smell is something that is closely linked to our memory.

I remember getting hand-me-down clothes from my cousin Suzy. They had the smell of Campho Phenique.
Ever since wearing her clothes, I always related that smell to her family- The Burkels.
Funny. The smell wouldn't go away even after multiple washings. My mother would always put up our out-of-season clothes in boxes high in a closet until the weather turned again and we would need to pull out the winter clothes or the summer clothes, depending on what time of year it was. The next season when we would pull out Suzy's hand-me-downs... they still smelled like "The Burkels" coming out of the box that seemed to concentrate the odor.

Grandma's smell was different. She lived in the Fort Worth Stock Yards, well not in the stock yards, but lets just say that if you stood on the street in front of her house, this is what you saw:

Yes, her street, N. Calhoun dead ended into the front doors of the exchange. Now, a historic neighborhood-- but then, in the 70's, just a run down area of town, that had seen better days. There was an ice house across the street. Where people would buy--- ICE. In big gigantic cubes. Joe T. Garcia's, the famous Tex-Mex restaurant, was a block away. I had no knowledge of the local history then, but now, I miss not realizing it then.

But the smell I remember from Grandma's house wasn't enchiladas, wasn't freon refrigerant, wasn't cow shit, but instead -- mildew. That was what her house smelled like.

Beneath her house, Grandpa dug, (or so they say he dug), a basement. Although I was always skeptical of that bit of my family's history. I never saw Grandpa anywhere except on his easy chair in front of the Zenith console TV grumping baby-talk English interspersed with Espagnol. He called me "Kat-tar-ina!!!" with emphasis like that. He scared the daylights out of me.

That basement had a warm, musty, mildewed smell that only someone in my dad's family would understand. Most of the clothes coming out of that house had that smell, so did pictures, blankets, Christmas presents.

The basement is where we kids would hang out. It seems that most of the times I remember being in that house were in the winter months. It was too cold to play outside, so we would get out of the adults' hair by going downstairs. I remember sometimes they didn't want us messing around down there.
This is not me, but looks about like what I looked like back then, only my ears were smaller and my hair and eyes, lighter.

The basement was dark and damp. There were exposed rafters and cold, moist walls. I have no idea what they were made of, but likely some sort of plaster. The light fixtures were exposed light bulbs hanging from the low ceiling with a pull chain. I remember groping through the darkness looking for the chain. The first light blub was easy to find though. If you ran your hand on the rail as you walked down the stairs, there was a string running the length that was rigged to the light bulb chain. A short tug and the light would already be on when you stepped off the staircase and into the basement. Grandpa's ingenious design.

My cousin Shawn who lived in Grandma's house most of his life had toys down there. And there were pipes under the low hanging ceiling running the entire length of that shotgun house. I remember all four of us little cousins getting on top of Grandpa's thick mattress ticking and swinging wildly from the pipes like a parallel bar in the Olympics. They were probably gas pipes....

If only the adults knew.....

There were racks and racks of clothes, some probably from when my grandmother was very young in the 1930s and 40s. Hats, suits, dresses, shoes, baby clothes, picture frames, gas stoves, and all sorts of odd toiletries lined up on my Grandpa's dresser.

There were no windows in that basement, but at the far end, just under the kitchen, there were steps to the outside world. These led to the back yard and it was almost like being in Narnia and pushing through the coats to find a whole new world. I loved playing in that basement. It was easy to imagine all sorts of things when I was down there. I was scared and excited to walk those basement stairs, always afraid something spooky would grab my feet as I passed by, and not being able to really see what was under the stairs because it was too dark. When I was older and had no reason to play down there anymore, it was sad not going into the basement....
It lost it's mildewy magic.

That house is lost to us now. Pity.

But today, I tasted something green. And that one green gummy bear made me remember all of this.

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